On Vulnerability

by OneTaste Living Library  May 16, 2012

nnBy Nirmala N. nnSocial scientist Brene Brown recently gave a TED talk that went viral. Her unlikely subject was vulnerability. Brown has stated that her entire research career has been built around shedding light on the behavioral patterns and experiences that most of us acknowledge without really articulating aloud. In fact, those universally maligned experiences such as hatred, failure, loneliness, and desire, which have been painted into corners by the hastily brandished brush of shame, are the very triggers that can fuel transformation and open us to who we truly are. Like most people who are given a place in the public eye, Brown notes that she isn’t always “confident and surefooted” when it comes to walking her talk. After all, not ironically, assuming the life of an under-the-radar theorist is no longer possible, especially given Brown’s vehement postulate that vulnerability is an integral feeling state that all creators, all innovators, all movers and shakers have habitually experienced.nnWhile the world is learning to extol the virtues of vulnerability, letting yourself be fully seen, whether by the world or a lover, can be quite messy. It’s scary, after all, to show people our most rudimentary components—not just the parts of ourselves we can afford to be a little pompous about, but the stunted parts…the aspects of our personalities that have languished like malformed children locked in an attic…the things about us, past and present, that we prefer to shove like dust bunnies under the rug…the things we perceive as failures, shortcomings, irrational compulsions…the illicit little desires we harbor with passionate secrecy for fear that people would think us crazy if we were to ever fully lift the lid and show them.nnIn other words, those integral aspects of our identity which can never be disentangled from what makes us lovely and unique.nnIn psychological speak, such aspects are typically referred to as “subpersonalities,” and are sometimes treated as mere demons that must be exorcised if we are to be productive, virtuous citizens in the world. But if we truly wish to understand ourselves, we must wholeheartedly love and nourish our inner scoundrels, sluts, hustlers, thieves, egotists. When we make contact with those parts of ourselves and confer them with approval, we touch the bedrock of our deepest loyalty, dedication, and devotion. These are the feral kitties and stray dogs of our being.nnOne woman I know recently had a breakdown of the breakthrough variety with the new man she was dating. After a particularly intense weekend of a volunteer training she was doing with a shelter for survivors of domestic violence, she decided to decompress by going to a party and drinking heavily, which ended in a weepy confrontation with her boyfriend—replete with revelations about her own past experiences with abuse, and the walloping admission that she was feeling…well, kind of overwhelmed and vulnerable, to say the least.nRather than pat herself on the back for engaging so bravely with what was true for her in the moment, her initial reaction was shame for having let herself fall to pieces right before her new man’s eyes.nn“I was mortified when I realized what I’d done. I’d let him come face to face with my deepest insecurities, even though it was my confidence that he’d initially been drawn in by,” she remembers. “I was a crying, snotty mess, and I could tell he was rattled by my revelations, so in the aftermath, I was kicking myself…lamenting the fact that he would no longer see me as perfect or having everything in my life figured out.”nnAmazingly enough, what she didn’t realize was the pivotal opportunity her meltdown had provided. In fact, revealing her vulnerability and allowing the chinks in her armor to be more conspicuous was cause for celebration. While some people will run from vulnerability out of a fear of confrontation, her man was able to see a depth, a sweetness, and a delicacy that made her far from weak—they made her ferocious, authentic, real.nnOn some level, peeling off the layers of propriety is the only true and enduring way into our most fundamental truth. By mining the raw, unrefined gold of our pain, our longing, our crude and unprocessed emotions, we are able to alchemize our inadequacies and turn them into our strongest allies.nnToo often, vulnerability can be mistaken for weakness or indulgent sharing, because we are seduced by the mythos of perfection, which mires us in unnecessary rigidity and keeps us further and further from true intimacy. When we are not busy shoehorning ourselves into plastic politeness, we see that the people who are having fun are the ones who aren’t afraid to be messy and imperfect. The mere act of living is a generous, organic process in which nothing is left out.nnMany people define courage as the ability to act despite the presence of fear—when we lay all our cards on the table, we know we run the very real risk of losing. But we don’t deem ourselves successful on the basis of external factors or data. If even the smidgen of a possibility of happiness is present in our choice, we instinctively move towards it. In other words, we are willing to be vulnerable, because our desire is greater than our fear, and only when we allow the façade to crumble do we recognize the beauty of our nakedness.nTurned-On Women know that until cracks start forming in the sidewalk, no flowers can bloom. They can fully relish the richness of this world and intuit the mystery of the world beyond, but only because they have spent ample time exploring their own internal landscapes—this includes the shadow of the underworld, the place where secret hungers and illicit desires hide out in the tangled underbrush, longing for approval and integration. Few men and women are truly willing to go there, because it’s the place where we discover things about ourselves that we kind of sort of wish we didn’t know. But in taking that mythic heroine’s journey into the underworld, the Turned-On Woman emerges victorious and whole, and is now ready to turn her attention toward others.nnVulnerability is part and parcel of walking the path of desire, because while it opens us up to the possibility of suffering, it offers a valuable compass to navigate the strange, sometimes unfamiliar, terrain of our true selves—which, if ignored, would lead to even greater suffering. Desire tends to be more of an idea for most people rather than a living and embodied presence in the world we move in—that is, the masculine, five-sense, daylight world of fixed habits and patterns, in which everything that occurs takes place on predictable ground, well above sea level. Desire is a vital part of our internal landscape. Its path is circuitous and labyrinthine, and it chooses detours, untaken paths, and perilous cliff edges over well-paved roads adhering to authority-stamped safety standards. The path to freedom offered by desire is feminine and deeply mysterious. It doesn’t depend on our capacity to make decisions that are based on well-timed rationalization or distant theorizing. In fact, it only asks that we drop more deeply into our senses and learn to feel through the darkness in ways befitting our primitive origins. As we run our fingers along the cave walls and allow ourselves to be guided by instinct, we learn to expand to the innate logic of our bodies.nnVulnerability is often associated with responding to adversity and dealing with uncomfortable events, but it is also inextricable from learning to ask for what we want and moving towards what brings us alive. The act of moving towards our pleasure and desire, not as a reaction to pain and adversity but as the consequence of being in congruity with our deepest desires, takes practice and the willingness to st umble around in darkness, at least for a little while. This is particularly true for women, who have a tendency to place other people’s needs before our own—and in some cases, to expect the skies to magically open and rain down their largesse without our having to articulate what it is we most desire.nBrown has said that “vulnerability is not weakness, nor is it optional. We can’t opt out of the uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks that are woven through our daily experiences. Like it or not, vulnerability is coming, and we have to decide if we’re going to open up to it or push it away…Our shields don’t protect us. They simply keep us from being seen, heard, and known.”nnNumbing ourselves or pushing our authenticity deep into the bowels of who we are to placate others are no longer options, and as Brown and other notable people have recognized, they only serve to add to the culture of alienation and disconnection that many Turned-On Women are awakening from.nnTurning on isn’t about running away from situations we find painful or unacceptable, but opening ourselves to the full spectrum of sensation. It’s relinquishing the lackluster safety of our former shelters, prying open the parts of ourselves that are hermetically sealed, and cracking open to the sweet wet ache of freedom and awakening.nnIn what ways do you see your vulnerability as a strength, or a weakness? How have you expressed vulnerability in the past, and how has it served you?nn nnHow does this all relate to Orgasmic Meditation you ask? Well, OM is a practice that fosters vulnerability. As we go on OMing, we become more and more comfortable being seen in a state of Orgasm; a state that is out of control, where sounds, emotions, movements, and sensations run through your body without command. And little by little we learn to communicate from this out of control place, what we want, how we want to be handled, what we need. And through this continual experience we begin to shift our perspective of being seen in our messiness, from weak to powerful.